Food Libertarian

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From time to time the authorities haul in some renegade cheese maker, and those who love bureaucratized food safety all breath a sigh of relief. This kind of tyranny is heavy-handed enough to get noticed by those who yearn for food freedom — as I do — but not so noticed generally that we can get the food fascists to stop it. Yet.

There are two basic points that need to be made about this. The first is that the government does have a role in food safety — but it is not the role of preventative regulation. Rather, in a realm of food libertarianism, the government would set the definitions and standards. This is what a fluid ounce is, and that is what counts as cleaning a chicken.

These standards would not be enforced by food inspectors before the fact, but would rather be used whenever an action had been brought by a dissatisfied or food-poisoned customer. The civil magistrate would publish, before the fact, what weights and measures they are going to use to adjudicate legal actions and disputes. An action could be brought either against Tyson or Ma Beedle’s Chicken Ranch.

Once the contaminated food were traced back to the offending source, if it were shown that the problem had been caused because Ma Beedle or Tyson had different views (than reasonable people do) on what cleaning a chicken meant, then then the assigned damages would be more severe. But the food producer would be liable for the costs associated with the problem, even if the contamination slipped through generally reasonable processes.

When it come to matters of food safety, anybody who has had a batch of bad oysters can attest to the fact that we need a referee to sort things out after the fact. Feelings can run high.

The second big issue has to do with where the real threats to food freedom are actually coming from. Before saying what follows I do want to note that I believe alternative food producers should be free to sell their unpasteurized milk off the back of their pick-up truck if they want to. We are all Christians here, and we all have to go to Heaven sometime. I believe that in a free society, we should all be allowed to take our own risks.

The price of this risk taking is that there must be no whining when the price of that risk comes due — whether for the customer, who got what he paid for, or for the proprietor of the small family farm that will be put out of business by one bad batch of milk. The guys who drive their milk around the country in eighteen wheelers will not be put under by one bad batch, and this is part of the cost of freedom. Freedom can be harder on those who don’t have as much money. But it is still worth it for all of us.

What we cannot have is a system that regulates the “big guy” and then leaves the little guy alone. Once establish regulations before the fact, then the big guys will get control of the regulators. “Regulations” to “reform everything” is how we get crony capitalism. This means if you want freedom for the little guy you have to have it for the big guy.
And this relates to one other observation about food freedom. For every small alternative dairyman being oppressed by an overweening state, there are a thousand conventional merchants being oppressed. Food freedom means food freedom. This should include, on a equal footing, the guy who wants to sell you his curds and whey right out of the cow almost, and the guy who wants to sell you 16 ounces of sody pop.

In doing this, we have to distinguish levels of intrusiveness and bossiness, represented by the conventional approach to food safety, and the new foodie approach. As should be plain from what I have written above, I do have foundational disagreements with our current approach to food safety, and want to see it completely reformed. The old system was the set up for the new tyrants. But I still want to make a distinction.
In the old days, health inspectors would drop in on restaurants in order to enforce basic hygiene, and to prevent any of the customers from departing this world in paroxysms of pain later that same week. There was a fairly straight line connection between what they were seeking to discourage and what they were trying to prevent — a line that just lasted for just hours.

The new cries for regulation coming from what might be called the foodie left are being done in the name of health and safety (just like the old days), but they are not trying to prevent agonizing deaths later this week. Rather, they are trying to usher in a food utopia, by means of regulations and taxes. They have a vision for the good life and, by George, you had better come along. They want it mandated that your apple will have been locally grown, which has nothing to do with dying a slow death as far as I can see.

The foodie left are totalitarians of the plate. All the frenzies that they get going, whether it is about sugar, or gluten, or locally produced, and so forth, are frenzies that serve the same function that the global warming frenzy tried to produce — more state power, exhaustive state power.

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jigawatt
jigawatt
8 years ago

The foodie left are totalitarians of the plate. 

And then when the topic changes they’re all “my body, my choice”.

David Axberg
8 years ago

The problem is when they regulate “the same” from a big producer to a small producer. Chicken for instance is not regulated while it is being raised it is regulated only when it is to be processed for consumption. Same goes with beef, pork and others. You as a consumer then are OK when the USDA stamp is placed on the item. A USDA stamp on an egg carton means it is the size we say it is not how it is raised or cleaned. When I the small farmer wants to sell processed chicken under the “USDA exemption” then… Read more »

Brittany Martin
Brittany Martin
8 years ago

Good points, and I agree that preference shouldn’t go to the big guys or the little guys, but didn’t many “big guys” in the industry today get to be that way because of government regulation?  It seems like Tyson got where it is because they had the money to influence regulations in their favor.  True food libertarianism would finally put the little guys and the big guys on equal footing, and I think we would be surprised at what the market would look like.

Robert
Robert
8 years ago

One of the hot buttons in the illegal immigration issue is the Mexicans who run hot food carts in competition to established restaurants. They appear and disappear. They pay no taxes and thus are in a better position to compete with Mexican American owned restaurants that do pay taxes.

Seth B.
Seth B.
8 years ago

I’ve gotten so fed up with it that when I see “organic” on just about anything I intentionally avoid it. What does nonorganic even mean? Robotic?

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
8 years ago

Yes, if you’re consuming anything other than water and salt that is not “organic,” you should probably stop immediately. There’s no such thing as “nonorganic food.”

Arwen B
Arwen B
8 years ago

@Seth and Jane:
 .
Oh you ~people~ with your “words” and “dictionaries” and “definitions.” ^_^

Sydneysider
Sydneysider
8 years ago

You don’t think that miscarriages due to listeriosisfrom raw milk are something to be avoided?

Kweave
Kweave
8 years ago

Sydneysider,
I think the point is that it is up to the consumer to decide which risks they want to take. If a pregnant woman decides to drink raw milk, then along with that decision goes certain risks. I, as one who favors raw milk, believe that there are serious health risks in consuming pasteurized milk (the lack of beneficial bacteria, the denatured proteins, and destroyed enzymes are very hard on our digestive systems). I won’t drink the stuff. But I do not think that pasteurized milk should be banned or regulated into oblivion.

Jeff Gray
8 years ago

I think the issue most people in the food reform movement have in mind is a two-tier system: if you want FDA/USDA/FSIS inspection and regulation, then go ahead and patronize those establishments adhering to that. If you don’t want that type of regulation but would rather visit your farmer and inspect his methods, then you’re free to do that. This is the basic position of groups like the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. The catch is people accepting the risks they take in either case. FSIS-inspected meat packing places are pretty horrid. And the farms that send their animals there are… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

I completely agree that there is too much regulation and too much bureaucracy and that as a general proposition people should be able to make their own choices about what to ingest into their bodies. I would end the war on drugs on the same principle.  That said, I have never understood the logic of saying that it’s preferable to sue someone after there has been a calamity than to prevent the calamity in the first place, if the calamity is preventable.  I don’t know enough about the science of it to know if raw milk is as harmful as… Read more »

David Smith
David Smith
8 years ago

My parents went through  the Great Depression here in the rural South.  During that time, while families didn’t have a great deal of money, they still had their farms and/or serious kitchen gardens, livestock, etc.  It was of no concern for them to purchase produce, meat and eggs, including raw milk, from one another.  And there wasn’t a lot of talk about folks getting sick! Now, when we do hear about an e-coli or salmonella outbreak, it’s from a USDA approved factory farm, yet that Amish farmer who wants to sell raw milk to willing customers is raided by police!… Read more »

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

Eric the Red wrote: why isn’t the preferable policy to keep the children from becoming sick in the first place? Right on cue.  This seems to be where it always starts.  “Won’t someone think of the children?”  As if parents never think of their children, and so the government has to step in and assume its “natural” role as the better parent.  (Notice it’s never “your children”, as if parents are to set policy for their own, but “the children”.)  Someone will object that, in some degenerate households, the government (with the sword of God’s wrath swinging from their hip)… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

Katecho, the problem is that not every parent is as smart as you are; in fact, some of them are complete idiots.  Because freedom is a good thing, within limits even idiotic parents are permitted to make decisions for their children, and if their children suffer as a result, that’s a sad fact of life.  However, there is an outer limit on how much parental malfeasance or misfeasance a poor defenseless child must endure, and this conversation is really about where that line is to be drawn, not whether it exists.  We don’t allow parents to discipline their children by… Read more »

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

Eric the Red Herring, at his finest: We don’t allow parents to discipline their children by breaking their arms.  We don’t allow them to pimp their children out to pedophiles willing to pay.  If you really are an absolutist who thinks that there is no circumstance whatsoever under which the state may second guess a parental decision, then you’re completely nuts. Eric apparently missed the part where I already acknowledged the government’s legitimate role in recognizing, codifying and prosecuting actual crimes.  Eric continues: “If you concede that there is any line at all, then this conversation is about where it… Read more »

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

To summarize:  There are a variety of normal, time-tested, and non-criminal choices in the areas of food, education, health care, etc.  Yet we have surrendered such choices (in the name of “the children”) to the same institution that thinks cutting up the unborn among “the children” is just a normal choice and not a crime.  This is the backward unrighteous condition we are in.

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

To suggests, as Eric does, that government regulation makes sense to protect the children from raw milk, seems to me tantamount to equating giving a child raw milk with child abuse — which is laughable.
And the whole idea — and current law — that raw milk is so bad that it cannot be labeled for human use (but tobacco can!)…
 
Well, one would think people started to drink cow milk only fairly recently after Pasteur was born!

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

I should have written “current law in my state“.

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

But Katecho, the issue really is whether it’s permissible to give children food that will make them sick.  Remember, I started off by acknowledging that I don’t know enough about the science of it to know if that’s the case.  However, if that’s the case — if raw milk really does make people sick — then I don’t see how it’s a permissible choice to give it to children.  Do you really want to make the case that it’s a permissible choice for a parent to give children food that can poison them?

Tim Nichols
Tim Nichols
8 years ago

Eric the Red, California has (or did, a couple years ago) two raw-milk dairy farms that would cheerfully provide you with a starting point to get up to speed on the problem.  O’course, you’re getting the info from them, etc.  But the same is true of the regulators — caveat lector, and have fun.

Eli
Eli
8 years ago

Very good thinking, but I think you missed something. I don’t see any reason for government to play the referee. If the risk is already internalized in the price of the meal, then there is no reason to make the producer liable for damages. By adding in the price of liability to the price of risk, your making food too safe. You’re in effect making consumers pay twice the premium for risk reductions than they demand. It is unlike tort law because the damages are agreed to. The person who got sick agreed to getting sick because they agreed to… Read more »

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
8 years ago

Eric, raw milk does not “make people sick.” It is not a culture of bacteria or a toxin. It runs the risk of making people sick. At a minimum, it seems that the restrictions should be limited to minimizing the risk that it make people sick, rather than banning a product that is not inherently dangerous.

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

Jane, if you’re right on the science, then I agree with you.  But for me, that’s what it comes down to:  The evidence.

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

Obviously it doesn’t come down to “The evidence” for Eric, otherwise he would have some evidence for oughts and shoulds in his purposeless, meaningless, accidental universe.  He can only describe what is, he has no evidence that he or a government should be prescribing anything.  He has no evidence that particles can suspend the physical laws of their motion and move with regard to metaphysical prescriptions and prohibitions.  Sick children are meaningless and valueless in the stellar debris field.  Yet, without evidence, he assigns meaning and negative value to their pattern of organic reaction, as if compassion for chemistry was… Read more »

Kyle B
8 years ago

The God of the Bible says “Don’t worry about the suffering you’re going through, but entrust your souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Pet. 4:19). The god of this world says “don’t worry about the oppression, but entrust your souls to a faithful legislator while eating good.”

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

But Katecho, you accept as an article of faith that my belief system doesn’t allow for shoulds and oughts.  You accept that as an article of faith even after I’ve repeatedly explained the basis for shoulds and oughts.  Ever hear of the Ninth Commandment?  Perhaps you could stop bearing false witness against my belief system.
 

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

But let us suppose, just for sake of argument, that Katecho is right and sick children are valueless and meaningless stellar debris.  Suppose there really is no point to any of this.  All of that supposed, for the brief cosmic moment of time when sick children have consciousness, what is the argument against making their conscious experience pleasant rather than unpleasant, or trying to extend it rather than shorten it?
 
 

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

We’re far off the original topic, but it’s still important to show that Eric is not the evidentialist that he portrays.   In the past, Eric has tried to answer the prescription dilemma by offering that “if you want X, then Y is indicated, and therefore you should do Y.”  Unfortunately, this is a non-answer since it can never inform us if we should want X in the first place.  If X = “murder”, then Eric’s logic only tells us how to be successful murderers, it doesn’t tell us whether we should.  I’ve pointed this out to Eric before, but… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

It is not 100% accidental that we experience the sensation of pain.  Pain is an important evolutionary tool that increases an organism’s chances of survival.  If there were no pain, then organisms wouldn’t know to avoid predators and other harmful phenomena, which in turn means they wouldn’t live long enough to pass along their genes.  Because of that, pain avoidance is hard wired into the human psyche, and asking “what’s moral about avoiding pain” is comparable to asking what’s moral about breathing or eating.  Likewise, things that bring pleasure — eating good food, having sex, having a safe place to… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

And while I don’t want to put words in his mouth, I suppose Katecho’s next question will be why survival and passing along one’s genes is preferable to not surviving — if life is pointless, then who cares.  To which I will respond that that is yet another “I’m too stupid to come in out of the rain” questions that I discussed in an earlier thread, and it’s why life is not pointless, especially to an atheist like me:  Think of life as being like a party.  I get to eat good food, and talk to interesting people, and play… Read more »

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

Eric the Red wrote: It is not 100% accidental that we experience the sensation of pain.  Pain is an important evolutionary tool that increases an organism’s chances of survival. Is Eric against pain or for it?  Wasn’t he arguing against displeasure earlier?  Now pain is an “important evolutionary tool that increases… survival”?  Then pass the raw milk!!!!!  Oops.  In any case he doesn’t seem to grasp the issue.  Pain is 100% accidental, meaning that it was not intended.  Indeed, nothing was intended at any level, not even the laws of matter.  Eric’s entire universe is accident from left to right,… Read more »

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

Eric says to “Think of life as being like a party”: But just because the party ends at some point doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a fantastic party while it lasts, or that I wasn’t hugely lucky to have been invited to it. Invited by Whom?  Eric makes it sound like the place was made for him, as a ballroom for his pleasure.  Where does this nostalgia come from?  It seems like a self-imposed delusion in direct opposition to Eric’s materialistic commitments.  He is superimposing a Cinderella narrative that he knows to be entirely false.  And atheists have the nerve… Read more »

John Brigham
John Brigham
8 years ago

Katecho and Eric –
You guys may seem to be way off subject, but it really IS the subject! Go for it!
_________________________________________________________________
Back to food: I have a simple proposal – if you want to be protected from bad food, then you should follow whichever authority you have faith and trust in. Choose from the following list: God, your own taste buds, the farmer, a scientist, the gov’t inspector, the advertising on the carton. Then ask: which of these actually cares? What do they have to gain by being honest? Which one accepts liability?

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

John, the reason we’re off topic is that Katecho seems to think every thread should be a referendum on my overall world view.  I have no doubt that if I stopped by just to say good morning, there would be a follow up from Katecho about how my world view doesn’t provide a basis for knowing that it’s morning or that it’s good.  I guess that’s the nature of having a one-track mind.

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

Katecho, you made what I consider a stunning admission, though I’m not sure you intended to:  Morality, like eating and breathing, __just are__.  They don’t need an explanation other than that they exist.  Morality, like eating and breathing, are what make it possible  for humans to survive.  If we didn’t have them, we’d have died out a very long time ago.  So even though I may not be able to connect all the dots to your satisfaction (an impossible task in any event, since any connect the dots that doesn’t include God would be unacceptable to you), the mere fact… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

And what’s my alternative?  One only need go to the patriarchy/Doug Phillips thread, with its 54 comments, to see how well Christian morality is working out.  The Christian church has something to sell — forgiveness — for which it needs a market.  So, like any good salespeople, it then goes out to create a market by guilting people over basically anything that makes them human.  If a teenage boy masturbates in his bedroom (which is probably every teenage boy who’s ever lived), he’s guilty and needs forgiveness.  If I notice that a woman (or, God forbid, man) is attractive, then… Read more »

rob howard
rob howard
8 years ago

Eric, I usually just like to read here, but I’ll jump in for a second, though someone else will probably say this better. ____________________________________________________________________________ Let’s don’t pretend that guilt is unique to the Christian concept of morality; it’s unique to the nature of man, and clearly implicit in the alternative you propose, because all of us fail at being decent (you’ve borrowed that word from the non-materialist side of the table; we’d like you to please return it) and none of us are God, and most of us are not even God-like very much of the time. ____________________________________________________________________________ The difference… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
8 years ago

Rob, “decent” is not from the non-material side of the table, but be that as it may, I am painfully aware that my worldview doesn’t provide redemption except to the extent that those who have been wronged choose to extend forgiveness to the ones who have harmed them.  However, that merely makes my belief system unpleasant and tells us nothing about whether it is true; a great many true things are also unpleasant.  And, it also doesn’t answer the issue I raised about your belief system imposing guilt for basically just being human.  Under your system, I’m always guilty of… Read more »

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
8 years ago

Eric, the science says that milk is not a toxin or a pathogen. It does not contain the properties of either.  People drank milk for thousands of years before pasteurization was invented and they did not all suffer for it without exception. My quibble is with your overstatement. No one denies that tainted milk carries a danger of making people sick, just like tainted tomatoes or lettuce. That is different from saying “raw milk makes people sick,” as though it would make sense to say “raw tomatoes make people sick.” And clarity of statement in a topic like this matters,… Read more »